Most articles about safer sex are aimed at straight people or at gay men. That isn't entirely fair. After all, a significant portion of people identify identify as lesbian, or women who sleep with other women sometimes, or people who have vulvas and sleep with other people who have vulvas, or something else entirely. Regardless of how you identify, this sex info is for you!

So many people - doctors and health care providers included - believe that sex between two (or more) people with vulvas is not risky, but that idea makes a lot of assumptions, such as that women who sleep with women only participate in certain lower-risk sexual activities, or that the people involved have never had sex with someone who has a penis (a lot actually have), and even that talking about sexual health for vulva-bearing folks just isn’t as important.

The reality is that sexual activities that have you mixing fluids with other people, or has one, both, or more of you in contact with each other’s mucus membranes (mouth, vulva, anus) carry STI risks no matter what your gender. The result of the incorrect thinking has been that a lot of people don’t adequately protect themselves and don't get regular testing, because the myths tell them it isn't needed.

Recently, the CDC documented an incident, which the organization labels as "rare," of HIV transmission between women, something that is commonly believed to be impossible.

None of these things is meant to scare anyone away from sex. In fact, we want to empower you to keep your fabulous, sexy self healthy while still getting the sex you want.

Here are four ways to keep yourself and your partner(s) healthy!

Get Informed

What is safer sex anyway? Safer sex is about reducing the risks of transmitting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs can be transmitted through fluid sharing (vaginal secretions, anal secretions, or blood are the primary fluids that can transmit pathogens) and skin-to-skin contact with the mucus membrane(s) (vulva, anus, or mouth) affected by an STI. Safer sex does not make all STI risks go away, but it can reduce them and, in some cases, that risk is greatly reduced.

Sadly, there hasn’t been a ton of research specifically around STIs and vulva-bearing folks who have sex with each other. You can do a bit more reading at the CDC website.

Get Tested, Take Care of Yourself

Many women who have sex with women fear judgment or outright ignorance from their health care providers if they are open and honest about their sex lives. Often, the result of this fear is not getting the sexual health care, or even general health care, you need. If you don’t feel like your provider will respect you, then it’s time to find another provider. A professional, responsible health care worker will not pass judgment and will want to know everything they need to know to help you stay in good health.

Usually, the best way to find good health care is by word of mouth; your friends’ experiences - good and bad - can tell you a lot about where you do and do not want to go for health care, although you can also seek recommendations from your general practitioners, online reviews, etc. LGBT community centers will often keep resource lists that you can use to narrow down your search as well.

Many sexual health clinics indicate in their literature that they provide LGBT-aware services, but private medical practices are less likely to say this explicitly.

You can also search for LGBT friendly providers here.

Once you have found a possible provider, you may want to start by calling the clinic and speaking with a nurse or other medical personnel; it is recommended that you do this before going in for a consultation. It is important to know what you want to ask before speaking with your possible clinic. Some questions you can consider asking include: Has your staff been trained to respond to the needs of LGBT patients? What do you know about the specific health needs of LGBT patients? What experiences have you had with lesbian, bisexual, or gender-variant patients? The responses you receive from asking these questions (open and friendly versus guarded or condescending) can tell you quite a bit about the provider's expertise and willingness to work with you, but seeing them in person is often the only way you’ll know if they will be a good fit. Remember that you are always entitled to respect, and to ask to see a provider who will give you that respect. (Get more tips in Be a Sexy Safer Sex Superhero in 6 Easy Steps.)

Talk With Your Partner(s)

Saying you need to use safer sex practices can be just as matter-of-fact as saying you love kissing, or that nipple-play doesn’t do anything for you so can we please do something else thankyouverymuch. You can let your potential partner know that using barriers, such as dental dams, is important to you or that you prefer to avoid some activities because the risk level feels too high for you - just as a general policy and not as a judgment of them or their health. However, if they don’t want to practice safer sex with you, that’s their choice. Then you and your partner(s) get to choose whether sex just doesn’t happen for you (yeah, that part can really put the damper on an otherwise fabulous date), or you can decide to do things everyone enjoys and that carry less - or no - STI-transmission risk. That might mean things like mutual masturbation, dirty or flirty talk, BDSM activities that don’t involve fluids, massage, and/or anything else you can think of.

It can be helpful to remember, and to remind a partner, that recognizing that someone might have an STI, or knowing that they do, doesn’t make anyone wrong, bad, dirty, or any of the other unpleasant things you may have heard about STIs. It makes them human. Humans can get sick, whether through sexual means or not.

Depending on your comfort level, you might only want to have certain kinds of sex with people after you’ve seen their STI test results. Even if your, and their, results are negative, you’ll want to continue using barriers until both (or all) partners have had at least two rounds of tests come back negative and you both (or all) have agreed that you’re in a monogamous relationship.

Have Fun, Use Barriers!

Barriers, barriers, barriers. Use dental dams for oral sex, gloves for manual (with hands and fingers) sex, and condoms to keep toys clean. Barriers keep your fluids from mingling with your partner’s and reduce the risks of skin-to-skin STI transfer. Contact with another person’s blood can be especially risky health-wise, so barriers are especially important if anyone involved in the sex is having their menstrual period. (Find out why condoms and sex toys make such a great combination in Put a Condom On It (Your Sex Toy).

Gloves protect the wearer and the person whose vagina or anus the giver's fingers or hands are on or in. Gloves keep rough nails from scratching delicate vulvar or anal tissues, which can hurt when torn and increase risk for infection transmission. They also protect the wearer’s hands from vaginal or anal secretions, which can enter the bloodstream through cracked cuticles or open cuts.

If you have long nails, gloves with cotton balls stuffed into the fingertips can prevent uncomfortable abrasions during manual sex.

Keeping sex toys clean is very important and can be done by washing the toy(s) with soap and water. If they do not have a built-in vibrator, you may also be able to sterilize them in a pot of boiling water between uses. (Always check the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning first!) In addition to these processes, using condoms can easily simplify the cleaning process and is useful when a toy cannot be sterilized. (To learn more, read Keeping It Clean: Top Tips for Sex Toy Sanitation.)

Using condoms is also helpful when one toy is to be used with multiple partners or when the toy will be going from the anus to the vagina, as this will help decrease the risk of urinary tract and yeast infections.

Condoms, dental dams and gloves are available in both latex and non-latex materials. For gloves, it is important to ensure that you are not purchasing and using ones that are powdered. For condoms, ensure that you are not using condoms that have a spermicidal lubricant, as this lubricant contains Nonoxynol-9, which is a compound that can irritate the vaginal walls, thus making you and/or your partner(s) more susceptible to infections or irritation.

To learn more (pretty much anything you’d want to know, actually) about barriers and how to use them, take a look at this handy-dandy guide from Scarleteen.

A Final Thought

Having safer sex doesn’t make you boring, stodgy, or unsexy. And it doesn’t have to impact your sense of fun, romance, or spontaneity. Safer sex simply makes you a responsible and caring partner to yourself and to those you want to have sex with.